The Scale of the problem in Liverpool

We can only speculate on the numbers of deaths caused by asbestos exposure to Liverpool residents in the past. However the Liverpool Occupational Project interviewed 2.601 men in doctors waiting rooms in Liverpool between April and October 1992 and found 335 cases of exposure to asbestos, 13% or one in eight men were found to have been exposed to asbestos at work.

If we compare this figure to the male population over 35 years old in Liverpool which is 104,700 then approximately 13,600 men in Liverpool may have been exposed to asbestos.

This is certainly an underestimate, for instance some people may not have known they were exposed to asbestos, artex has been widely used and up to hundreds 1970’s contained asbestos. There are numerous other examples.

Liverpool docks in the recent past imported huge amounts of asbestos and as late as 1975 25.3 thousand metric tons of asbestos were imported exposing thousands of Dockers to asbestos (Hansard 5.11.76.)

Ship construction and repair were asbestos was used widely on both sides of the Mersey was a huge local industry employing thousands of workers exposing them to asbestos dust. Asbestos was used in our local car plants and in hundreds of other industries especially construction.

Women were also exposed to asbestos. Liverpool had several bag warehouses, used hessian sacks were taken to the warehouses from the docks to be recycled. Many of the bags contained asbestos.

There are also well documented cases of women contacting the diseases from other family members clothing.

Below is an extract of a letter sent to the Asbestos Information Committee. The committee is an asbestos industry supported body. The extract is part of a letter sent by a Consultant Pathologist working in Liverpool Broadgreen Hospital in 1976.

“At present I am assessing the asbestos fibre lung content of he adult population of Liverpool, from post-mortem tissues and surgical tissues, in people who had no known asbestos contact. By the method I use most urban adults have between 2,000 and 7,000 asbestos fibres of dried lung. Only 8% of the population studied so far had a total absence of asbestos.”

This document was obtained from Turner and Newel of Manchester internal archives the worlds biggest asbestos manufacture and supplied to us by lawyers working for Chase Manhattan Bank.

This statement is by John Selwyn Gummer, one time Under Secretary of State for Employment, Minister directly responsible for health and safety at work. “We must therefore assume that a single fibre (of asbestos) could do real damage which may not be seen for about 20 years or more”. (Hansard 28.7.83).

According to a H. S. E report. The number of lung cancer cases attributable to asbestos exposure is currently estimated at about 1,800 a year ( H.S.E. I993 Annual report, Statistical Supplement). The same H. S. E. report also notes studies of particular groups of asbestos exposed workers suggest that the number of excess lung cancer produced is roughly, and with considerable variation from study to study double the number of mesotheliomas.

Professor Julian Peto of the Institute for Cancer Research in a more recent study in conjunction with the H.S. E. estimates that the death rate over the next few years from mesothelioma will soar from 1,010 to almost 3,000 deaths each year or the equivalent of one male death in every hundred.(Times 7.1.94)

Figures may help us to gauge the level of exposure in Liverpool. Statistics however do not tell the whole story. They cannot convey the pain and suffering of victims dying of mesothelioma or disabled through asbestosis.

Statistics cannot illustrate the worry and misery of families who suffer when a member is struck down by a progressive and disabling disease. Often compounded by the loss of a major part of the families income.